Chills, thrills, and tension compete with a troubling desire to tie a nice, neat bow on the psychology of murder.

GIRL, 11

The host of a popular true-crime podcast investigates an unsolved serial killer case in this debut novel.

In Justice Delayed, her podcast, Elle delves into a series of serial murders that shocked the Upper Midwest with their brutality and obsessive precision. Perhaps most devastating of all, every victim was one year younger than the last, earning the perpetrator the nickname “The Countdown Killer.” These murders happened over the course of four years until the last victim, an 11-year-old girl, escaped her captivity; the remains of two adults and one of the missing victims were found in a burned cabin shortly thereafter, and as nothing has been heard from the killer for nearly 20 years, most people believe his was one of the bodies. Elle, who was herself abducted and abused as a child, tries to put her focus on telling the stories of the victims rather than sensationalizing the killer, but when discussing TCK, she finds it hard to remain distant. When someone contacts her with a tip that they know who TCK is, and then is murdered, she begins to wonder whether her podcast may have inspired the killer back to action. When an 11-year-old girl goes missing, Elle must convince the police that her hunch is correct or risk losing everything. The irony of the novel is that, despite Elle’s insistence that because the killer “wanted to control the narrative…I’m not going to give him what he wants,” author Clarke grants him several chapters of narration to better explain his obsessions and his “evolution.” This impulse to explain everything away with nice, neat symbolism only exacerbates the argument that true crime (though in this case, of course, the story is fictional) often serves to glorify the criminal. Everyone wants an origin story to help explain away evil, and Elle, or at least Clarke, is no exception.

Chills, thrills, and tension compete with a troubling desire to tie a nice, neat bow on the psychology of murder.

Pub Date: April 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-358-41893-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME

When a devoted husband and father disappears, his wife and daughter set out to find him.

Hannah Hall is deeply in love with her husband of one year, Owen Michaels. She’s also determined to win over his 16-year-old daughter, Bailey, who has made it very clear that she’s not thrilled with her new stepmother. Despite the drama, the family is mostly a happy one. They live in a lovely houseboat in Sausalito; Hannah is a woodturner whose handmade furniture brings in high-dollar clientele; and Owen works for The Shop, a successful tech firm. Their lives are shattered, however, when Hannah receives a note saying “Protect her” and can’t reach Owen by phone. Then there’s the bag full of cash Bailey finds in her school locker and the shocking news that The Shop’s CEO has been taken into custody. Hannah learns that the FBI has been investigating the firm for about a year regarding some hot new software they took to market before it was fully functional, falsifying their financial statements. Hannah refuses to believe her husband is involved in the fraud, and a U.S. marshal assigned to the case claims Owen isn’t a suspect. Hannah doesn’t know whom to trust, though, and she and Bailey resolve to root out the clues that might lead to Owen. They must also learn to trust one another. Hannah’s narrative alternates past and present, detailing her early days with Owen alongside her current hunt for him, and author Dave throws in a touch of danger and a few surprises. But what really drives the story is the evolving nature of Hannah and Bailey’s relationship, which is by turns poignant and frustrating but always realistic.

Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7134-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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